Negotiation 101

Many problems people encounter while renting could be resolved with effective communication. Of course, there are other options if a conversation isn't successful, but sometimes trying it is a good place to start. Many enforcement agencies (such as building inspection departments and DATCP) ask if you have attempted to resolve the situation amongst yourselves and it is helpful to have documents to demonstrate the negotiations you have attempted.

Strategies for negotiating

1. Think about it before you go in.

Things to consider:

  • What do the laws say? You'll feel more comfortable conversing if you're clear about what the other party is/isn't required to do.
  • What are the limits on what you're willing to accept? How far are you willing to go to reach a solution?
  • What steps are you willing to take if you don't come to a resolution? Tenants, will you be able to move out? Landlords, would you be willing to evict the tenant or try to find a new one? Think about it all the way through – would you be able to take those actions?

2. Start with a positive statement. Opening the conversation in a friendly manner will make the other party more willing to work with you.

3. Ask a question. Open your conversation with a neutral, open-ended statement, something along the lines of:

“It seems like we've had a lot of miscommunications about ___. I'd really like to know where you’re at with it now.”

4. Listen to the other person. Sometimes, it feels like listening means agreeing with the other person. However, it doesn’t have to be that way. If the other person feels you’ve heard them, they are likelier to listen to you and be less defensive. Some phrases to use to signify active listening include:

  • “It sounds like you tried hard to ___.”
  • “It’s difficult to do anything about this now.”
  • “I’m hearing that you're very concerned about ___.”

5. Listen to the other person’s idea for a solution. Rephrase the other person’s idea until it seems to peter out, like this:

  • “So, you think I need to work on resolving ____.”
  • “You see the next step as me doing ____.”
  • “You feel like you can't take action right now because of ____.”
  • “You’re waiting until ____ to be able to ____.”

6. You don’t need to hash out the past, usually. Tenants shouldn’t force landlords to acknowledge past mistakes, nor should landlords force tenants to when making agreements for the future. Some phrases to help you look forward as a problem-solving team:

  • “You know, it makes a lot of sense why you’d feel ____. I’m having a hard time, too, living with this problem. How do you think we can work it out?”
  • “I can see why this is a challenge for you. How do you think we can move forward?”

7. State your idea for a solution. You don’t need to argue against the other party’s idea to put yours forward. Have the mindset that you are a team working together to resolve a problem. Convincing them that they are wrong is not helpful, but coming to an agreeable middle ground is. Try saying:

  • “I’m concerned about waiting that long. Can we work on anything sooner than that?”
  • “Would it be possible for you to take [this step] even if you can't quite manage the whole project right now?”
  • “Would it be possible for you to pay $___ even if you can't manage the whole amount right now?”

8. Write down your agreement. These things are more likely to work out well if it's in writing. It is always best to be as detailed as possible in your agreement, so all the parties understand what the expectations are.

9. Follow up and thank the other person for taking the time to talk to you. As difficult as negotiating problems can be, if you end on a positive, forward-looking note, it generally creates a better outcome.

You can find additional tips for asking for what you want here.

If Negotiating Doesn’t Work Out

  • Check your lease and determine the laws governing your situation. Make sure you have the rights you think you have. (If you have questions, talk to us at the TRC.) Ensure that law citations or clauses in the lease support your request.
  • Assert the rights you have. Start by writing a letter! Then, if that doesn't work, ask for help from outside agencies. Asserting your rights often starts the eviction process or suing in small claims court for landlords. For tenants, there are more choices: suing in small claims court, filing a complaint with DATCP, calling a local building inspector, or breaking a lease, among other options.
  • Sometimes it may be difficult to prove the issue you are trying to resolve, and an agreement might not be achieved. For example, a landlord might not be able to prove that a tenant’s dog is causing damage. In such cases, if negotiation didn’t work, it could be more accessible to evict over something else, like late rent or clear lease violations.
  • Likewise, tenants can have needs that their agreement needs to cover. For example, if you have issues with noisy neighbors, talk to your landlord about insulation or switching apartments instead of making ultimatums. Consider alternative solutions instead of demanding evictions.

Pro Tip For Landlords: Be careful how you get your information. Landlords are required to be non-discriminatory, but no such laws apply to complaining neighbors. If a tenant regularly complains about their neighbors, find ways to get your information reliably. It is best not to make assumptions based solely on one party’s perspective.